Oceans: Protect, Prevent, Restore God's Creation



Oceans: Protect, Prevent, Restore God’s Creation

Marcy Wieties

Preached at St. Andrew Lutheran Church on Ocean Sunday in the Season of Creation, September 2013

See below for the accompanying information sheet explaining what parishioners can do for oceans


So the kids and I went to Walgreens this week to have a flu shot.  We do it every year.  How many of you have had one?  Have you ever had the flu?  The fever, aching muscles, coughing, sniffling. It’s truly miserable, and the shot can help you avoid it.


Why am I asking you about flu shots? Our topic today is the oceans!  That has nothing to do with getting the flu, right? Well, actually, it does. If you’ve ever had a flu shot, you need to thank a horseshoe crab. In fact, if you’ve ever been put on an IV, had a medical device implanted, or received pretty much any injectable medication in the past few decades, you likely owe a horseshoe crab a huge debt of gratitude.


This is a horseshoe crab. These are kind of odd ocean creatures that a lot of us may never see.  Believe it or not, they hold an important medical tool in their bloodstreams. In the 1950s, researchers discovered that their blood clots vigorously when it’s exposed to certain bacteria. They found that a certain compound in the blood is responsible for a very fast and very efficient response. And that acts as a safeguard for the animal, reacting when it comes into contact with toxins that are a part of those bacteria.


It was really an important medical discovery. You see, even after an item has been sterilized and all the live bacteria are gone, those toxins can be left behind and cause disease. Those researchers realized that that compound in horseshoe crab blood could be used as a simple, reliable test for those toxins and today, that method is widely used to test for contamination of medical equipment and injectable medicines—like flu shots.


Crazy, huh? I’ll bet you didn’t know that!


Just as amazing, that compound can be extracted from a horseshoe crab without hurting it. They recover soon after they are returned to the water. And you get a medical benefit without exposing yourself to bacteria that might be left behind on medical equipment.


Our lives on this earth are tied to the oceans in so many way—ways we don’t even realize—ways that are constantly being discovered.


We can’t see the ocean here in Wisconsin and there’s a good chance that you feel a little disconnected from the seas of this world. It might seem that, because the ocean feels far away, its problems will only harm those people that live on the coast or make their living directly from the sea. But that’s far from being true: the sea is far more important than that, even to those of us living in the American Midwest.

It's easy to forget the critical role the ocean plays in human life. Oceans cover more than two-thirds of the Earth's surface. Ocean plants produce some 50% of the planet's oxygen. Ocean currents distribute heat around the globe and that regulates our weather patterns and climate. More than 90% of the trade between countries is carried by ships and about half the communications between nations use underwater cables. And then there’s those obscure thing, like the fact that because the architecture and chemistry of coral is so similar to human bone, coral can be used to replace bone grafts, it heals quickly and cleanly or the fact that seaweed extract helps keeps your peanut butter and ice cream at the right consistency!


I don’t think it will come as news to any of you that due to indifference, ignorance, and greed, we’ve put the oceans in real danger. We continually stress the seas. We dump massive amounts of contaminants and pollution into the ocean every year. Every year about three times as much trash is dumped into the world’s oceans as the weight of fish caught. And you know, some of it seems innocuous. Did you see the story in the paper Thursday? About 223,000 gallons of molasses was accidentally spilled in Honolulu Harbor earlier this month.  Doesn’t sound dangerous, right? Actually, more than 26,000 fish and other marine creatures suffocated and died from the spill. Refined oil is also a big problem. Did you know that more oil reaches the oceans every year as a result of leaking cars and such than the BP oil spill of a few years ago? We also dump massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air every year and that ends up in the ocean, as well, making it more acidic and raising its temperature. Air pollution alone is responsible for about a third of the contamination that ends up in the water. And we’ve also overfished everywhere and upset the delicate natural balance of life. 


But despite all that, it is relatively easy for us to ignore the condition of the sea. It seems so vast and distant. How can a few people on land create a genuine problem for the sea and the 226,000 identified species that live there? Does it really matter?


Sylvia Earl is a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A few years ago, she said, “The living ocean drives planetary chemistry, governs climate and weather, and otherwise provides the cornerstone of the life-support system for all creatures on our planet, from deep-sea starfish to desert sagebrush. That’s why the ocean matters. If the sea is sick, we’ll feel it. If it dies, we die. Our future and the state of the oceans are one.”


But it’s even more than the physical connection we have with the oceans of this world. John Kunich in his book Killing our Oceans wrote, “We may well argue that this crisis imposes more than a moral duty on us; it confronts us with a spiritual crisis.  We are destroying one of the deep mysteries God has given us to explore, one of the domains of God’s presence.”


Think about that: the ocean as the domain of God’s presence. This earth with its oceans is a complex of profound mysteries designed by the Creator.


And that profound mystery plays a big role in this text from Luke this morning. Jesus tells Peter to go out further, to cast the nets into the deep. After arguing that they haven’t caught anything so far, Peter gives in and does what Jesus tells him to do. And this water that has previously yielded nothing yields a catch of fish so large that they can’t even haul the nets in. The water and the fish play an important role in teaching Peter and teaching us about God’s power and abundance that far exceeds our expectations.


We tend to see the Geneseret Sea as just the context, the background of the story. The real story, we think, is about Jesus and the disciples, the human drama. The Sea is just the stage. Jesus just happened to run into these guys while they were fishing and he climbed into their boat to teach them something. But you know, the Gospel writers didn’t make the distinctions we do between material and spiritual well-being. For them and for the early Christian community, Jesus and his teachings weren’t about escape from this world, about rising above this world, but rather about the transformation of this world, a world in which everyone would find physical, emotional and spiritual wholeness. For such wholeness for these people living on the shores of the Geneseret Sea, a plentiful diet of fish was essential.  The water was more than just a background, a context.


It was a basic, fundamental piece of the puzzle of daily life. It was a crucial element on which livelihoods, and lives, depended. We’ve lost that understanding. Even here in Wisconsin, our lives do depend on the oceans.


And we have harmed a magnificent part of this creation given to us by God.  We have taken for granted this gift redeemed by Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit, a gift from which life emerged and on which life today depends.


The idea of Earth as a boundless warehouse has proven both false and dangerous. We have created and continue to create a profoundly altered planet.


It’s scary and depressing. The prospect of doing too little too late leads many people to despair. But as people of faith, captives of hope, and vehicles of God's promise, we can face this crisis with hope. There is some good news.


First, God, who made the creation and made it good, has not abandoned it. Day after day, God sustains life in this world, and the powerful vitality of God's creation, though defiled, is not destroyed. The life-giving power of God's creative goodness remains at work, even in those places where it seems there is no hope. The Spirit will continue to renew the face of the Earth and we can be confident that we’re not pursuing a lost cause. God empowers us, as God’s stewards of the Earth, to be loving servants to creation.


There will be no quick fixes for the oceans.  It’s going to require a sustained effort from all of us if anything is to change. You know, just as the damage has been cumulative, so must the recovery be.


Water is essential for life. No living being on planet Earth can survive without it. It is a prerequisite for human health and well-being as well as for the preservation of the environment. We must be aware of what’s at stake


We need to think and act both locally and globally if we want to pass on a healthy ocean to future generations. In an era when catastrophes get much of the coverage, it’s important to remember that we can still make a difference. There are many successes to celebrate. Ocean conservation is working and we can learn from our successes. But there is plenty of work still to do.


It’s not my job today to stand up here and read you a list of things you can do to assist in the recovery.  I have a handout that can give you some ideas. 


I’ve also put some photographs out in the narthex. These pictures were taken by Brian Skerry. He’s a photographer for National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines and he specializes in underwater photography. I’ve just recently discovered his work and I wanted to share it with you today because it’s truly amazing and it will give you an idea about the kinds of things that are at stake. I’m hoping that it will give you some image that will stay in your mind and give you something to think about as you leave here today.


You need to see the wonders of the ocean and embrace and internalize the pain of the oceans, the pain of all creation. Unless you see and understand what’s at stake, the ocean will continue to be something far away, just a nice place you might visit on vacation.


Preparing for this sermon, I watched a presentation by Don Scavia, who is a professor of environmental stability at the University of Michigan. He was speaking at a forum celebrating Great Lakes Week, which was just two weeks ago. His observations about the health of the Great Lakes I think can also be applied to the health of the oceans. He said we need to protect the well-functioning parts of the system, prevent new stresses, and restore the things that aren’t quite what they could and should be. Protect, prevent, and restore.


And then it occurred to me: Isn’t that what God does for us in Christ?  Protect, prevent, and restore. And if that’s the case, don’t we owe the same to our oceans and indeed all of creation?